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Digitisation of incoming invoice verification at the SPIEGEL Group

„It was our great luck that we went productive with Shareflex Invoice Online at the beginning of the corona lockdown in Germany in April 2020. This enabled us to carry out invoice verification and approval from our home office practically overnight. In retrospect, we were able to achieve the project goals for financial accounting: improved throughput times, more transparent processes and high user acceptance.“

The SPIEGEL Group

The SPIEGEL Group is a media company based in Hamburg. With a team of more than 1,100 employees in the editorial office, documentation department, publishing house and subsidiaries, the company has been providing classification, orientation and information for more than 70 years.

Over the past seven decades, the Group has developed into a renowned multimedia media company and today has various subsidiaries and holdings. Its products are characterised by outstanding journalistic quality and independent reporting.

The journalistic flagship — DER SPIEGEL — was founded in 1947 and stands for critical and investigative journalism. Today, the SPIEGEL brand reaches over 14 million people every week across all channels.

Digitisation of incoming invoice processing

These diverse tasks lead to collaborations with a wide variety of partners. And, as a result, to a large number of incoming invoices. All invoices are checked, approved and then posted and archived in SAP by the financial accounting department.

By implementing the product manufacturer Portal Systems AG’s Shareflex Invoice Online software, it was possible to introduce a Microsoft 365 / Office 365-based solution for the approval processes of incoming invoice processing, including SAP integration, for the SPIEGEL Group and its various subsidiaries.

As a result, a previously largely paper-based process was digitalised. In this way, invoice processing times were minimised, and better transparency was created for the invoices in circulation.

Challenge: Seamless SAP integration

For many years now, the SPIEGEL Group has been using Office 365 and has deployed the Microsoft cloud solution throughout the company. The wide range of options offered by this platform, such as SharePoint Online, Teams, Office and OneDrive, are also utilised.

Audit-proof archiving of incoming invoices was previously carried out after paper-based invoice verification. The aim was to enable the invoice auditors and approvers to digitally check and approve the incoming invoices. It was therefore obvious to aim for a hybrid solution based on Microsoft 365 / Office 365 and SAP.

„In the course of the further digitisation of the company, we were looking for a solution for the verification and release of incoming invoices (internal project name RESY). The solution should integrate seamlessly into our SAP financial accounting. From the outset, it was very important to us that the accounting staff could remain in their familiar SAP environment.“

Solution Strategy based on Microsoft Office 365 and Shareflex Invoice Online

During the selection process, the Hamburg-based Microsoft SharePoint and Office 365 specialist Portal Systems AG was able to convince with its own product Shareflex — together with its long-standing partner IBTG GmbH, who specialises in incoming invoice processing — and to present a coherent solution strategy for the many challenges. Right from the start, the company worked closely with SPIEGEL’s specialist department, IT and local SAP specialists.

A specialised service provider was selected for the automatic readout of invoice data — such as creditor data, header and footer data, and invoice items. This service provider digitises the invoices, extracts the data and returns them to SPIEGEL-Verlag daily, based on agreed SLAs. Subsequently, the data is automatically transferred to the newly developed SAP invoice cockpit.

User-friendly integration into the existing financial accounting software

The employees in accounting always start the invoice verification process from the SAP invoice cockpit and have an overview of the current processing status of the invoices in circulation. A tool provided by Portal Systems ensures the reconciliation between the invoice cockpit and Shareflex Invoice Online / SharePoint Online.

Afterwards, all invoices are checked and approved for the process participants in the Shareflex Invoice Online solution. The process can be flexibly adapted to the business requirements at any time via the Shareflex configuration. A processor and approver matrix, which is provided and integrated in Shareflex, always finds the right processor. SAP-specific data is also used for invoice account assignment. Various escalation mechanisms ensure that the specified processing time is maintained.

„We have been working with Microsoft 365 / Office 365 for years and exchange intensively and directly with Microsoft about the latest developments. Thus, we have already been able to use the standard tools and -functions to explore many potentials for our group of companies. We are pleased to add digital invoice verification to our application landscape on the Microsoft 365 platform. The product Shareflex by Portal Systems AG convinces us both on a professional and technical level.“

More flexibility with Shareflex ECM Online

Portal Systems offers pre-configured business applications based on Microsoft 365 / Office 365, which are characterised by their high degree of flexibility. This means they can be quickly and easily adapted to individual customer requirements at any time.

For this purpose, Shareflex provides user-friendly interfaces, but also supports the back end for the automation of background processes. This is essential, for example, for complex permissions or the implementation of different workflow scenarios.

The Enterprise Content Management Shareflex ECM Online enables the fast and flexible digitisation of business processes in the cloud. It also significantly reduces the effort and complexity compared to a cloud-based individual development.

Results and outlook

Today, a total of 15 clients are connected to the RESY system. And approximately 20,000 incoming invoices per year are checked and approved by the employees in the various subsidiaries of the SPIEGEL Group.

The IT decision-makers of the SPIEGEL Group also regard the project as a complete success. With the combination of Microsoft 365 / Office 365 and Shareflex Online as a strategic cloud platform for business processes, a solution was found that perfectly fits into the IT strategy.

In the next step, the SPIEGEL Group plans to expand the incoming invoice solution regarding the mapping of further approval guidelines. In addition, the possibility of implementing additional processes digitally with the help of Shareflex is being examined. Thus placing an even stronger focus on the use of SharePoint Online.

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